According to an article written by Wendy Davis for The Daily Online Examiner, Airbnb has agreed to provide the New York State Attorney General with “anonymized” data about the service's 15,000 hosts who reside in the state.
Airbnb has declared that it will not be turning over users' names, email addresses, social media account data, tax information or other potentially personally identifiable information. Instead, the company plans to replace its users' names with unique identifiers.
Obviously Airbnb is hoping that the deal will protect its users' privacy -- though it's worth noting that replacing names (or IP addresses or other data) with unique identifiers isn't always foolproof. AOL's “Data Valdez” -- referring to the company's decision to release search queries for 650,000 "anonymized" users -- showed that people's names could be discovered based on their search queries. Also, researchers at the University of Texas determined that specific Netflix users could be identified by comparing reviews of obscure movies on Netflix with reviews on Imdb.com that were published under screen names.
Airbnb blogged today that the compromise “appropriately balances the Attorney General’s stated objectives of going after illegal hotels, while protecting as much of our hosts’ personal data as possible.”
The deal gives the Attorney General 12 months to follow up by requesting more details about specific users who are targets of an investigation.
With the agreement, Airbnb and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman are resolving a battle that erupted last year, when Schneiderman demanded detailed information about all New York residents who use the service to rent out their apartments.
As part of Airbnb's deal with Schneiderman, the service has promised to alert New York hosts to the various local laws that apply when residents rent out their homes. Some of those regulations make it risky for residents to continue to use the service -- though many who want extra income will probably decide to take their chances.